In our latest conversations with newsmakers, reporter Kristen Barton sat down with Haltom City business owner Florence Salazar Bruner at Firehouse Auto. In the spirit of supporting local businesses, the interview was conducted at Casa Azul coffee.
Kristen Barton: I am here with Florence Salazar Bruner, owner of Firehouse Auto Sales at 4900 N.E. 28th St. in Haltom City. And we are going to be talking about supply chain issues and how they are affecting local car dealerships. To get started, tell us about your business and how it got started.
Florence Bruner: I own my own independent auto dealership. I sell anything that’s pre-owned so I do anything from 2015 to 2021. I do have a brick and mortar, and I’ve always done a concierge service so I focus on buying and delivering cars to customers. For the busy parent, the busy mom, the busy dad, the busy business owner; I buy for commercial businesses as well.
Kristen: How long have y’all been open?
Florence: Eight years. I worked prior for an independent dealership for 17 years.
Kristen: We’re seeing supply chain issues with the holiday season. People are seeing it in a delay in some of their shipping and getting packages, but how is it affecting our local businesses?
Florence: In the auto dealership business, it started back in March of this year. We started seeing rental cars were no longer available and then the new car dealerships and franchise dealerships were running out of cars because GM, Ford, Toyota were not manufacturing at a certain time. Parts were not being shipped out so all the new cars were being sold and we were lacking in used cars because the franchise dealerships were coming in and buying used cars they could have on their lots to keep their employees employed, which is a big deal for us, because we depend on franchise trade-ins and dealerships to send those cars to the auction so we can buy them and trade them.
In the beginning of January of 2020, I could buy a Nissan Sentra, a 2020, and sell it to you for $19,999. That same 2020 right now is now going for $21,000 in the auction so that means I still have to retail it to you as a customer for $23,000. And that’s a Nissan Sentra, that’s a small vehicle. So now a Maxima, which is a large vehicle, is going to auction for $25,000-$30,000. It has jumped up tremendously, and it’s getting harder for us to get it for the customer for a better deal.
Another thing is, if anything is on recall and we are going to go to the bigger dealerships to get the recall repaired, it’s taking weeks to months. That means cars are being held out longer, shipments are coming in, parts are not coming in on time. We’re depending more on the independent car shops than we are on Ford, GM, Toyota.
Kristen: Is this hurting how many customers you have coming in?
Florence: Oh, definitely. During the summer I had a lot of customers deferring from our business because they thought we were overcharging for the vehicles. Then they would go to the franchise, and they saw the real prices on the franchise. After August when everything started going and they started seeing the franchise and the independent prices wasn’t really a big difference. It’s harder to find vehicles right now. But I’m part of the chamber and I’ve been able to do a lot of networking to buy wholesale and get cars and continue to go. I’m actually traveling out of state to get vehicles at this time. That’s how crazy it is.
Kristen: What kind of solution do you see for these issues? What can help?
Florence: Right now for me as a small business owner, if you notice even on Facebook, Instagram, even on commercials, everyone is asking you to sell their cars. We’re actually going to the consumers and saying, “We’ll just buy your car, just sell it to us.” That’s how we’re really getting cars right now if we’re not going to the auction, we’re buying up vehicles and paying over price for what a vehicle would cost in the beginning of 2021. We do see now the manufacturers are releasing vehicles, cars are coming out slowly but surely, so hopefully by June 2022 we’ll see a little decrease and cars will go, hopefully, down. In housing right now, it’s a seller’s market, and that’s the same thing for cars.
Kristen: And are these manufacturing issues a result of the pandemic?
Florence: Oh, absolutely. It started back in March of 2020 when everything shut down. I’m a part of the National Independent Auto Dealers Association, and we saw a fluctuation when everything shut down and didn’t resume for 90 days. People didn’t go back to work because they were scared to go back to work. I live in Arlington and the GM plant’s right there, and it was shut down. And I have a lot of customers who couldn’t get to work. They couldn’t send their kid to daycare, or their family had COVID, their wife’s jobs were shut down. It was just a lot of safety issues.
Kristen: As a local business owner, why do you think it’s important to the local economy to support our local businesses?
Florence: We’re the fastest-growing companies. In Fort Worth we have emerging businesses every day and during the pandemic, especially minority companies, were the fastest-growing companies in the pandemic. We made businesses where there was no business. Think about it, I survived my business in a pandemic by bringing cars to customers when they didn’t want to get out and purchase vehicles. I did everything through our phone, emails, e-signatures, and we hand-delivered our vehicles with safety and masks and got our customers the cars they needed. It’s very important to buy from small businesses because those are the ones emerging and didn’t close their doors. Some did, but not all.
Kristen: Is there anything else you want the listeners and readers to know about this topic?
Florence: I know right now it’s hard. Everyone’s suffering right now with employees. It’s hard in the retail business to get employees at this time because there’s so much opportunity as well and we understand that, and the pay rate’s a lot higher; we understand that. We’re a commission-based company and, as of 2022, our plans are to pay a base salary. Treating your employees like they’re family and taking care of them is the No. 1 thing you’ve got to do.
This is a different world. There’s no more, “I’m going to fire you if you’re not going to do your job.” It’s taking care of your employees and making sure they’re happy so they come to work every day.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the address of Firehouse Auto Sales, which is in Haltom City.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.